Passover is coming to an end today for Jews around the world, and without getting into the whole soap opera of the holiday (starring Pharaoh, the Angel of Death, and none of your first-born children!), it’s been a time for celebrating a pretty daring escape from slavery by eating all kinds of symbolic food. There are bitter herbs to remind you of suffering, hard-boiled eggs to stand in for the circle of life, and matzo ball soup to represent the freedom of modern day Jews to eat traditional deli foods at a formal holiday meal.
In Los Angeles, matzo ball soup has already transcended the deli and wound up on the menus of high-end restaurants across the city. Some are permanent additions while others made only a brief appearance in honor of Pesach (that’s Hebrew for Passover). One thing’s certain: if you’re looking for classy Jewish penicillin, during Passover or whenever, LA should be the first stop on your list.
Chef Micah Wexler is a busy guy these days. He’s not only manning the stoves at his excellent Eastern Mediterranean restaurant Mezze, but also the deli section of the newly opened Umamicatessan called “The Cure.” As a Jew from the Valley, he stays close to his roots on Sunday nights when he offers a special selection of Jewish-American favorites including knishes, house-made pastrami, and a seriously good matzo ball soup. Wexler’s rich broth is a deep golden hue that’s filled with huge chunks of braised chicken, thick carrot coins, celery, dill, and even some very non-traditional parsnip. The matzo ball itself is about the size of a lacrosse ball and falls squarely into the fluffy camp so you won’t feel weighed down as you search for the afikoman. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90048;(310)657-4103
2. PUBLIC KITCHEN & BAR
Available at lunch every day of the year, “Jarrett’s Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup” is a whopping bowl of broth and ball. Chef Tim Goodell crafts his baseball-sized matzo balls from matzo meal and eggs then mixes it all with sparkling water to get the elusive airiness that every bubbe strives for. Instead of straight-up poaching, the chicken is grilled first to create a little more flavor before being sliced into strips and tossed into the soup for a final shvitz. Since Public is in the swanky Roosevelt Hotel, it’s a smart move to serve haute comfort food for the Hollywood crowd because even models need to eat sometimes. 7000 Hollywood Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90028;(323)466-7000
Sang Yoon named his latest restaurant after the Yiddish word for noodle as a tribute to his surrogate Jewish grandmother. She taught him how to cook and now he’s taken the homage a step further by offering Shanghai Matzo Ball Soup on his lunch menu. It makes perfect sense, considering just how much most Jewish people love Chinese food. The base of the soup comes across as traditional, but in reality, the flavors skew much more Asian. Instead of one large ball, you get three smaller ones in a white sesame oil-spiked consommé that would be more at home at Mr. Chow than Langer’s. The cross-cultural combination works, but it would definitely be better if the soup also came with a ticket to the local multiplex for a pseudo-Christmas Day experience. 3239 Helms Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90232; (310) 202-6808
Culina at the Four Seasons Los Angeles in Beverly Hills put an Italian spin on Passover this year. Their Brodo con Polpette started with a straight-forward chicken soup made with jidori chicken, onions, carrots and celery. The matzo balls, however, were anything but traditional. Matzo crumbs and ground chicken are combined with egg whites, lemon zest, fresh parsley and sage to form polpette — think of them like little Italian chicken meatballs. Instead of fluffy matzo balls, you got dense matzo meatballs to fill you up in case the thought of eating gefilte fish keeps you up at night. The special Passover menu is ended, but keep an eye out for future Jewish holiday specials.. 300 S. Doheny Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90048; (310) 273-2222
Multi-cultural is always the name of the game at Street, so it’s no surprise that there was a global tinge to their version of matzo ball soup for Passover. Top Chef Master Susan Feniger and Chef de Cuisine Kajsa Alger cooked up a one-night-only Passover seder menu with a North African version of matzo ball soup. The star of the dish was a saffron-scented chermoula that was made with citrus zest and fresh herbs. In between fava bean besara and Moroccan lamb, it was the perfect intermezzo to remind you of anti-Semetic oppression. You’ll have to wait a year to try it again, but Street is worth checking out any time for other clever spins on classics. 742 North Highland Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90038; (323) 203-0500